Thousands of music fans descended on Tel Aviv this May when the Eurovision Song Contest was held in the Israeli city.
The city was abuzz with the event, which saw 180 million people watching the contest take place in Expo Tel Aviv in the north of the city. But even without the draw of sequins and cheese, Tel Aviv has earned its nickname of the Mediterranean capital of cool.
Following a five hour direct flight from London’s Luton Airport, I arrived in the city on the day of the first Eurovision semi-final, and instantly rushed to my hotel to prepare, but it was hard to keep work at the forefront of my mind with the glorious weather. Being a beachside town, Tel Aviv pairs the perfect breeze with the Mediterranean heat, with temperatures hitting 33 degrees in the third week in May.
Thankfully, in between Eurovision activities, I got to make the most of the city that I didn’t know that much about. The most I knew about Tel Aviv was its proximity to the conflict in Gaza, with tensions between Palestine and Israel ramping up in the weeks before my visit. Political issues are the biggest detractor from wanting to visit Israel, and I did worry that the city itself would feel unsafe.
However, I felt as safe as I’ve ever felt on holiday, and walked around daily on my own without feeling any discomfort.
While there was obviously a higher level of tourists in Tel Aviv, residential areas were still pretty chilled, but walking through them, I didn’t feel intimidated.
Walking is what I did a lot of, only figuring out the bus system for trips to and from the Expo and deciding taxis were a bit pricey for my liking.
Everything is pretty much in reach via a walk in Tel Aviv. My hotel – the small but charming Center Chic Hotel in Dizengoff Square – was basically a half an hour from everything, whether that was a leisurely stroll to the Carmel market in the Yemenite Quarter, a bustling market selling everything from clothes to sweets, or the famous Tel Aviv beachfront, which is a must for any traveller.
Where should you stay in Tel Aviv?
Tel-Aviv is seen by many as one of the funkiest cities of the Middle East, so it’s no surprise the Eurovision Song Content was hotly anticipated this year. Travel site Expedia actually found that hotel searches for Tel Aviv rose by 55% for the Eurovision weekend, showing how the event brings people around the world together.
What’s more, the 14km promenade has great beaches for surfing and sunbathing, meaning most accommodation is walking distance from the sea with a large handful of hotels boasting epic room views.
If you have a good budget and want five star living with all the amenities, Royal Beach Tel Aviv (approx. £220 per night) offers a plush break, with a full-service spa, an outdoor pool and access to a business centre.
If you fancy something smaller and more intimate, opt for a cosy apartment such as the Sea Land Suites (approx. £114 per night). Set on the pedestrianised Ben Yehuda street, the apartment is in a prime spot for exploring local gift shops, wandering around eateries serving traditional falafel or watching street performers.
For something in the middle, try Center Chic Hotel (£138 per room). It also has a great rooftop garden terrace, a living room style lobby so you feel right at home and free bike rental. Not only that, it’s just steps away from shops and overlooks the iconic Dizengoff Square in the epicentre of Tel Aviv’s most vibrant district.
Book flights and accommodation on Expedia.co.uk.
The sandy beaches stretch all along the coast, with smaller stretches more suited to families while larger sections prioritise sunbeds or volleyball. But all of them are just minutes away from each other with stunning clear waters, while restaurants and bars line the other side of the road.
Take another slightly longer walk into the old city of Jaffa, and you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous buildings and the flea market, which sucked me in with its antiques and fresh sweets for sale.
But when the days of sunning yourself and sightseeing are over, it’s in the night when Tel Aviv comes alive. Known as one of the more vibrant gay scenes in the Middle East, there are more gay bars than you can shake a stick at, and plenty of them are worth a visit. The scene was better than ever with the Eurovision delegations in the city, with Eurocafe and Euroclub taking over some of the city’s biggest clubs including Hangar 11.
But Shpagat, a lively bar that feels welcoming even when you’re flying solo, was worth a visit in spite of the Eurovision calendar, with amazing drag shows on nightly. Gay men visiting the city also have a host of parties catered to them – bears can rock up to Tel-A-Beef, while Arisa, Papa Party and Pag all cater for the boys.
However, get ready to empty your pockets if you plan on partying hard.
The prices of drinks was the biggest downside of Tel Aviv, with a pint of lager costing around £7 – and that’s just for standard Carlsberg or Heineken.
A night out can easily cost upwards of £50, so I’d advise not getting into any rounds. Throw in taxis being typically expensive and many clubs requiring an entry free, and you’re looking at a costly social life.
Happily, these prices don’t extend to the food.
Being a hummus fiend, I was most excited to try out the Israeli cuisine, and I was not disappointed. My first meal came at the nondescript Hummus Abu Dubi, a tiny little cafe which, amazingly, featured a hummus-cam so you could watch your chickpeas being made.
I ordered a mix of their bestselling hummus, plus falafel and fried cauliflower, and it was so delicious I couldn’t help but ask for more pitta bread despite being ready to burst. And at only around £15 for a meal, my purse was happy too.
Same goes for Falafel Hakosem, or The Magician, where the receptionist at my hotel told me I could not miss. And she was right. I over-ordered due to everything looking too darn good, feasting on shawarma and fried aubergine, as well as the free falafel they handed out in the queue.
I later had a bit of a fancier, spennier meal at La Shuk in Dizengoff Square, a delicious plate of seafood pasta, but if you’re heading to Tel Aviv, you’re better off sticking to the national cuisine – and maybe learning the Hebrew for the basics, as many of the tastier traditional restaurants don’t come with English menus.
Having known little about Tel Aviv before my arrival, I was completely impressed by the city. It merges tradition and nightlife seamlessly, and in that sunshine, I could have easily spent a full Eurovision-less week soaking up the culture.
With the price of socialising, this isn’t the city for an impromptu mini-break – but if you don’t mind paying £7 a pint, I can’t see Tel Aviv letting you down.
Flights paid for by Skyscanner.net. Flights to Tel Aviv from the UK start from £96 in June, check out Skyscanner to find the best deals.
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